Britain's M&S promotes food and strategy bosses in top team shake-up

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a Marks & Spencer store at Oxford Street, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) -British retailer Marks & Spencer has promoted strategy chief Katie Bickerstaffe and food boss Stuart Machin in a major shake-up of its management team’s responsibilities, making them the internal frontrunners to succeed Steve Rowe as chief executive.

Marks & Spencer (M&S) said the changes were to help the clothing and food group shift from the “fixing the basics” phase of its latest turnaround plan to a phase that will see it move on from the COVID-19 crisis, reinvest and restore growth.

M&S said Bickerstaffe and Machin will become joint chief operating officers, reporting to Rowe who has been CEO since 2016.

Machin, whom media reports had linked with the CEO’s job at supermarket Asda, will continue as managing director of food but also oversee operations, property, store development and IT.

Bickerstaffe will oversee the data, services, clothing and home and international businesses.

If Bickerstaffe does eventually take over from Rowe she would become M&S’s first female boss in the group’s 137-year history.

M&S said finance chief Eoin Tonge will also take on strategy and transformation planning, while Sacha Berendji, currently retail, operations and property director, will move to focus on the future of the retailer’s store estate.

Richard Price and Paul Friston will remain as managing directors of clothing and home and international respectively.

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“Stuart and Katie will bring even more impetus to our core businesses,” said Rowe.

“With that I will, with Eoin’s support, be better able to concentrate on building the M&S of the future and our path to growth.”

After decades of failed turnaround attempts, Rowe and chairman Archie Norman have attempted to transform M&S’s culture, closed stores, increased the use of technology and improved product and value to broaden the retailer’s appeal.

But M&S was still struggling to reinvent itself before the pandemic hit.

A year ago it said the crisis would indelibly change its business and it would speed-up its latest plan, delivering three years of change in one.

In August, M&S cut 7,000 jobs and in November it reported the first loss in its 94 years as a publicly listed company.

Full year 2020-21 results will be published on May 26.

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